The Money Shot | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Money Shot 

Money Mark Nishita wants to put some bump in your rump.

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It might be an exaggeration to say Mark Nishita saved the Beastie Boys, but what the hell, let’s do it anyway. See, by the early ’90s those three Brooklyn buds were headed right for the pop-culture crapper. Just look at the facts: License to Ill had gone from frat house cool to old school joke. And Paul’s Boutique—sure, it’s now looked at as a ginsu masterpiece; the Dust Brothers loaded that sucker with so many samples (roughly 3,000) that it boggles the brain. But it didn’t sell for shit—“Hey ladies, I need money!” Buddhism hadn’t yet replaced brewskis. The group was years away from getting down with the Dalai Lama. And “Sabotage?” Just something one does to shut down the system. So basically, the Beasties were in desperate need of a savior.

In walked Mark Nishita, a.k.a. Money Mark. Now sure, you can say DJ Hurricane had a part in things. And I guess Adrock, Mike D and MCA themselves might have had something to do with it, too. But for the sake of sucking up, let’s ignore all that. It’s all Money Mark’s fault. He did it. He’s responsible. It was all his idea—at least all those cool, cavitating keyboard parts on Check Your Head and Ill Communication. He was the guy that put a little funk in the Beasties’ rumps. He was the one who gave the trio that Booker T hipster vibe. Money Mark was responsible for making the Beasties look like musical svengalis rather than punk-rock schleps with a rhyming dictionary. And yes, it led to glory (at least behind-the-scenes glory) and a serious cult following, but that wasn’t the reason Nishita did it. For Money Mark, it was all about the scratch.

“I did the Beastie Boys thing so I could make enough money to do what I wanted to: make instrumental records,” Nishita says flatly. “I wasn’t making money buying gold or something. What else was I going to do?”

Money Mark’s stint with the Beasties led to more than a fat wallet. After the release of Ill Communication, Nishita scored his own record deal, releasing his first solo full-length, Mark’s Keyboard Repair, on British indie Mo’Wax. It solidified his rep as one of the world’s biggest groove monsters, building off the funked and jazzy vibes he’d created with the Beastie Boys. There were flourishes of jazz, soul and lo-fi experimentalism. But it really all boiled down the essence of making an ass shake.

Things had changed by ’98, though. Mark’s second disc, Push the Button, featured the unthinkable: vocals. “I had a little arm twist from the corporate entities to make a record full of pop songs,” Nishita admits. “I agreed. I thought it would be a challenge. And my contract said that at least half the record had to have vocals, so what could I do?”

Granted, the experiment worked, but not well enough for Money Mark to do it again. For his latest record, Change Is Coming, Nishita has cut the vocals and gone back to his roots: booty-knocking instrumental funk. Tracks like “Information Contraband” and “Soul Drive Sixth Avenue” could have come from the Check Your Head sessions, with rolling Booker T soul that would make James Brown stand up and get down. But Mark also tried his hand at a few other styles. “Another Day to Love You” sounds like Nishita sat around with Castro smoking cigars for a day—basically, Afro-Cuban jazz as hot as the Caribbean sun. “Glitch in the System” comes off like Shaft having a xylophone showdown with George Clinton. And the syntho-jazz of “Chocochip” should make Medeski, Martin & Wood more than a little jealous. Nishita says he’s just using the tools he has gathered up in the last few years.

“I’m still learning a lot about music,” Nishita says. “You can never know enough shit. There’s always something new to listen to.”

And that’s part of Mark’s biggest problem. Yeah, people are more open to instrumental music than ever before, be it techno, house or whatnot. We’re continually bombarded by a bevy of beats anymore—little Custers surrounded by a throng of savage DJs. But Money Mark’s brand of soul doesn’t really fit in with the electro-barrage. It’s too old school for the clubs, too damn groovy for kids raised on bytes and computer burps. And even the “instrumental” stuff on the radio and MTV, like Fatboy Slim, Moby and the Crystal Method, all have some sort of vocal loop.

“Right now, with all the DJs and techno musicians, there’s been a lot of instrumental music lately that’s been commercially successful, which means you can pay the bills in my world. And all that makes me think I can pay the bills with this,” Nishita says. “But I know I’ll never get any big-time exposure. Radio is in such a sorry state anymore; so is MTV. And when was the last time you heard an all-instrumental hit? It’s all corporate-driven and focused on selling shampoo. I make records for different reasons than that.”

And Money Mark is going to continue to make the kind of records he wants to make—screw the consequences. “I don’t know where I fit in. I just love music,” Nishita says. “I love recording and touring and doing it all. It doesn’t matter to me. As long as I can make the kind of music I want to, I’ve got the greatest gig in the world. And that’s all that really matters to me.”

Money Mark with Lake Trout. Liquid Joe’s, 1249 E. 3300 South, 467-JOES, Sunday Sept. 23, 9:30 p.m.

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Jeff Inman

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